Dr. Ted Achacoso and Roland Pankewich are FemaleNetwork.com's #FNRealDeal experts for the month of September.
#FNRealDeal is a special FN series where field experts address the most pressing concerns of our 30-something readers, based on comments and feedback on social media and Girltalk. If there's any topic you'd like us to discuss (fashion and beauty, career, finance, travel, relationships) or any question you've always been afraid to ask, feel free to reach out to us via Facebook, or send an e-mail to email@example.com with the subject "#FNRealDeal Question." Senders will remain anonymous.
You become more conscious about your health once you hit your 30s, and that’s pretty normal especially when you start discovering that your body doesn’t perform as efficiently as it did a decade ago. But while you may have already tried a few diets here and there and signed up for yet another gym class, you’re probably forgetting the basics when it comes to achieving your definition of health and wellness, such as knowing what goes on inside your body.
The key isn’t just to address it part by part as the problem arises: if you’re concerned about losing weight, you’re not just going to target one specific area or focus on just the externals. You’ll need to dig deeper—and that’s what epigenetics is generally about.
Simply put, epigenetics “is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off… What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you exercise, even aging— all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time. Additionally, in certain diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, various genes will be switched into the opposite state, away from the normal/healthy state.” [via whatisepigenetics.com]
Dr. Ted Achacoso, BioBalance Institute Co-Founder and Chief Science Officer, and European Double Board Certified in Nutritional Medicine and Anti-aging Medicine Health Optimizaton Specialist, explained the concept during an interview with Female Network.
“DNA is not your destiny,” he said. “Your genes are not your destiny… In the following years we found out that during transcription to RNA, there are modifications that the body makes… [These are triggered] by your lifestyle, usually. If you drink poorly, if you sleep poorly… you can see, the body will change. And what happens is that, in the translation process, the protein—they can also change.”
“It is not only the genes that are inherited; even the mechanisms by which genes are expressed are also passed down from mother to child. It’s ‘epi’-genetic. It’s outside the gene.” This means that if a mother-to-be has a family history of obesity, she can actually alter the genes to be inherited by her offspring through the right diet, supplementation, and exercise, and cause the obesity genes not to trigger in her child.
“By just balancing your vitamins and minerals co-factors… we see that the cell actually balances itself,” noted Dr. Ted. “Then you adjust your macro-nutrients according to your activity, because the best diet is the one that works for you and your goals.”
To get a better understanding not just of epigenetics, but also of how looking into your body can help you achieve your health goals, Dr. Ted, together with Roland Pankewich, Functional Nutritionist and Health Optimization Practice Leader in Canada, answered the most common questions of Girltalkers and FN readers:
Female Network: Is there a ‘right’ diet that anyone can follow to be healthy?
Roland: When it comes to determining what someone needs… Figuring out what they’re doing it for, what it is that they want to accomplish is the first principle because if you’re just making a paradigm or making a structure for someone without knowing what they need or what they want to do, it’s kind of like throwing something in the air and trying to predict where it lands.
How do we determine health, and from there, how do we construct the diet? We make sure that we can adequately ensure that all your nutrients and your pathways are taken care of. So we figure out where your micro and macro nutrients are being processed all your vitamins and minerals, and then we figure out: are you able to turn those proteins and fats into energy? Are you having an adequate level of fatty acids? Are you making sure that all your pathways have the necessary co-factors?
"The body knows how to remedy itself. It knows how to self-heal."
[For example] I eat an apple. There’s glucose in that apple that I want to turn into ATP which is energy for the body. But unless I have the vitamins and minerals that analyze that process, that process is going to be slowed down. And the more I slow that down, it’s like an assembly line… the conveyor belt gets shut off, and there’s people waiting for energy over here, but there’s a whole bunch of stuff locking up that’s not getting through the process. We have to ensure that if someone wants to increase energy levels, if they want to improve the efficiency of your genes, you need to make sure that the co-factors are there and the necessary amount of energy is actually present for the body to be able to do that. So we determine where someone is in the health spectrum, and what I do is I construct their diet based upon a couple of variables:
- Are they getting all the nutrients they can get from food?
- Are their macro-nutrients balanced?
If someone is reasonably overweight and is eating a high carbohydrate diet, that’s a mismatch, because the body already has an issue in processing carbs and energy. So we start by making sure that they have the adequate nutrients by removing the problem food i.e. starchy stuff, sugar, processed grain… and then once we remove those signals, the body knows how to remedy itself. It knows how to self-heal. Once we got them to a body composition and their energy levels are more balanced, then we can basically ensure that we can restore some of those food items without a problem.
FN: Is it okay to go back to your previous diet after?
Roland: Not to your previous diet, because the perspective that I always use is, ‘this is what got you into trouble in the first place.’ But it might be okay to return to eating some of those foods if the body is able to process and tolerate them. An example is if you eat sushi, and your blood sugar goes through the roof and you have a lot of issues in processing those carbohydrates—that’s a sign that your body plus that food is the problem in the equation. It’s not just the food alone. Your physiology has a degree of responsibility.
If we improve your body composition, restore your nutrient levels, we restore your digestive function, improve your gut health, and all of a sudden sushi is no longer a problem, then you may be able to return to it, but it’s not something you want to get back to as a diet basis because if your diet is based on white rice and everything is added on top—that’s what gets you into trouble. You don’t want to ever get back to your old ways and forget the awareness.
FN: Can you be overweight and still be healthy?
Dr. Ted: False. I have to be more direct… We can calculate that you’re morbidly obese.
"[Fat tissue] releases inflammatory molecules. It causes the disruption of the signaling of normal hormones."
Roland: The thing that’s important to know when someone is overweight is they think it’s just extra energy on their body. They think that they’re just holding more weight. Your fat tissue is your most metabolically active endocrine organ… It releases inflammatory molecules. It causes the disruption of the signaling of normal hormones.
For example, as a man, if I gain 30 pounds of body fat, my testosterone levels would drop, my insulin levels will sky-rocket, my cortisol hormone would get thrown off, my growth hormone would drop… So if someone tells me, ‘No, no, it’s healthy, it’s just my body’s natural set point….’ If I threw them out in the wilderness for a month and said ‘No more processed food, no more sugar,’ all of that would melt off of them, because their body would metabolize them to survive.
It’s a condition of modern society. And people who want to rationalize choices and sustain a specific way of their physical self rather than say, ‘Maybe I’m engaging in some habits, lack of exercise, poor dietary choices, high stress, poor sleep habits that are actually detrimental to my health.’ ‘Cause it doesn’t happen by accident. A mentor of mine once said, ‘Donut never jumps on someone’s face. They always pick it up and take a bite.’
FN: Why are there some people who keep on going on diets and who try to exercise regularly and still not get results?
Dr. Ted: It’s multi-factorial… You already see, just by the food choices alone. If you don’t correct the food choices, you are not going to affect anything. Many Filipinos could not control what they eat. So I say, if you cannot control what you eat, then at least control the time that you eat it.
That’s why I was the first one to actually practice intermittent fasting here. I’ve recommended 16-hour fasts. Just skip breakfast, eat your first meal at noon, eat whatever you like, and then stop eating exactly at 8 p.m. Don’t get to bed within three hours of eating, and then go to sleep.
"You anchor your sleep time to a particular time of the night and consider that as the beginning of your day, so you never ignore your sleep time."
That’s one way of handling the food aspect of it. And then when you start feeling better, you can start controlling the quality of the food, the quantity of the food, etc., because you have to get a handle somewhere.
I [started] the sleep anchoring technique. You anchor your sleep time to a particular time of the night and consider that as the beginning of your day, so you never ignore your sleep time. Because if you say that it’s your last activity, you think, ‘Okay, I can eat up on it.’ But if you say that ‘This is my first activity,’ then [you] should stick to schedule and sleep. When you wake up, you [do] your second activity, which is to hydrate.
Roland: Just because someone exercises and makes a change in their diet, it doesn’t mean that it was the right change. Exercise doesn’t equal results. Exercise equals exercise.
If you walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes every day, and your body isn’t used to that, your body will improve only as much as it needs to to walk 30 minutes on the treadmill. So it’s like if you’re in school, if you do the same tests in grade 4 over and over again, you’re not going to progress at all. You’re going to stay at that same level of abilities, of knowledge, of completion capabilities, because you haven’t varied the challenge or the stimulus.
The context of exercise…is the body only adapts to what it isn’t used to doing. And that’s an important statement because if you’re used to sitting on the couch all day, and you go do crossfit as your first exercise choice… That’s like saying ‘I’m going to skip from grade 2 and go right to third year university.’ You’re not prepared. So just because you exercise doesn’t mean you’re going to get a positive result. Actually, people in exercise probably spend more time in rehab than people in car accidents, ‘cause they hurt themselves.
Same thing with diet: just because you cut your calories… If you haven’t checked your nutrient levels, if you haven’t checked your hormones, you might still be eating things that are blowing your blood sugar through the roof, you might still be protein deficient, you might still be nutrient deficient.
FN: If you find the right diet and you stick to it, does your body get used to it, and you’ll just keep on performing on that level?
Roland: Just like exercise, dietary strategies and lifestyle strategies have to be progressed and have to be targeted.
Dr. Ted: If you’re exercising every day, you’re actually pushing your body to inflame. That’s why you have periods of rest between exercise [sessions]. The other thing–there are pro-inflammatory foods [like] fried foods.
Roland: Fried starch is probably the worst.
"[Health is] often confused with the definition of fitness."
Dr. Ted: Refined carbohydrates and all of those. They are highly inflammatory foods. [You’ll have to see] the quality of food that you take… and the quality of exercise that you do. And is your exercise of the proper kind? Is it of the right duration? Is it the right intensity? All of these things actually [go] back to the basic definition of health.
Health is an optimal physiological state. It’s the state of your body characterized by:
- The absence of disease, plus...
- The balance between anabolic processes (or the processes that build in your body) and catabolic processes (the processes that destroy). They’re in a balance. When you’re a kid, your anabolic processes are a lot [higher]… When you get older, your catabolic processes would dominate. [It starts] when you’re 30. Thirty is when you want to start that balance... according to…
- The cycle of life.
When you have a definition of health like that, then you will begin to see where you want to put yourself.
It’s often confused with the definition of fitness… Fitness is another physiologic state that allows one to withstand stress—physical stress, emotional stress, mental stress—according to the life cycle of the organism.
The easy way to remember it is, ‘I may be healthy, but I’m not fit to run a marathon; you may be fit to run a marathon, but you may not be healthy.’
FN: This is one issue of a lot of Pinays: how do we deal with puson?
Dr. Ted: People say ‘Oh, I have a problem with my puson’. It’s actually not; it’s actually a gastro-intestinal problem. It’s a small intestine and colonic problem.
Roland: I’ve seen it often—it’s a little pouch. It’s not fat.
"A lot of people who have a problem with their digestion don’t actually realize the scope of what they’re dealing with."
Dr. Ted: Women here think it’s their uterus. It’s not. The intestines, however, can get inflamed. What you can do is get them uninflamed by knowing what foods you’re sensitive to. Don’t eat them. How do you know? You test for it first. We do that in Biobalance, and that’s why I started Biobalance was because no one was testing it here.
The testing is done in the U.S. We test for your food sensitivities, we test for your deficiencies and toxicities… We also test your stool—we could see if you’re digesting your food properly.
Roland: The digestive landscape. Yeah, a lot of people who have a problem with their digestion don’t actually realize the scope of what they’re dealing with. What I mean that is, it’s not just ‘I have heartburn,’ ‘I have bloating,’ ‘I have constipation,’ or ‘I have diarrhea.’ Those are just symptoms of a bigger problem.
If you imagine your digestive system, it’s still the outside of your body. It’s the last barrier that keeps things from getting directly into your bloodstream, your lymphatic, your tissues, your cells, so the tube has to be sealed. You shouldn’t know where your lunch is… You should go to the bathroom and see, ‘Oh, I didn’t digest that.’ That’s a sign that it’s dysfunctional.
If you go a couple of layers down, there’s a complex ecosystem in there. There’s two to three kilos of bacteria… It’s like a rainforest. There’s predator, there’s prey, there are different species, and they will live in harmony, hopefully. But I rarely find a harmonious ecosystem in the modern person because of the food choices we make and the environmental impact, the psychological, physiological impact… So when we create an inflammatory process in our digestive system, we automatically affect the immune system, because most of our immune system is located in our gut, so it’s kind of like a surveillance that’s making sure that the foreign stuff stays out of the body. And we also have an access to the neurological system. We have communication that goes two ways—between the brain and the gut, and the gut back to the brain…
I want to make sure that I clean [it] out, because I look at it as a half-way house between the barrier here and the inside. So if there’s inflammation there, if I’m creating what’s called a permeability leakiness to the cells of the gut, I’m creating an opportunity for the body to become metabolically imbalanced. If I clean up the gut and I restore function, health automatically improves.
Dr. Ted: Before you leap into diet and nutrition, get yourself tested three ways:
- Find out what your food sensitivities are. Avoid them.
- Find out what your macro-nutrient and micro-nutrient deficiencies are and what your environmental toxicities are. Get rid of them or manage them.
- Find out the status of your gut health. Take a look at the leakiness of your gut, whether or not the bacteria in there are preprocessing your food.
BioBalance Wellness Institute is located at Unit 1014, Lower Ground Level East Wing, Shangri-La Plaza, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City. For more details, visit their website.